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6 winners and 2 losers as the Chiefs outlasted the Bills in the Divisional Round

Let’s consider the Kansas City players who caught our attention during Sunday’s big victory.

Syndication: USA TODAY Tina MacIntyre-Yee /Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sunday’s Divisional Round playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York was just as epic as we all expected.

There were six lead changes, a fake punt, a fumble out of the end zone for a touchback, no interceptions, no sacks and almost no punts. The Chiefs had chances to put the game out of reach, but couldn’t capitalize. They also came up with plays on both sides of the ball to close out the fourth quarter with a win.

Here are a few Chiefs who stood out in a nail-biting victory that sends this team to its sixth straight AFC Championship game, which will be next Sunday afternoon against the Baltimore Ravens.

Winners

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Running back Isiah Pacheco: The Kansas City offense only works when they get the ball to Pacheco. He turned 16 touches into 111 total yards and the go-ahead touchdown — not to mention the first-down run that sealed the victory. He’s been an absolute monster down the stretch — and a huge part of the reason that the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills have unwillingly entered their offseason routines.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: There aren’t many negative narratives left to shatter, but we can certainly cross “never won on the road in the playoffs” off the list. Mahomes was stellar against the Bills, outdueling Josh Allen on 31 fewer offensive plays. He was deadly efficient (74% completions, 9.3 yards per attempt) while also converting big plays down the field (four passes and one run over 20 yards). If we continue to see this version of Mahomes, Chiefs fans should feel good about the team’s chances to repeat as NFL champions.

Tight end Travis Kelce: It would appear that the Chiefs’ superstar made the right decision to take Week 18 off so he could recharge for the playoff run. Postseason Kelce is back. He had five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. After a couple of drops last week, it was nice to see him bounce back, consistently get open and find the end zone. And now, the most prolific scoring duo in playoff history has a chance to extend their lead over Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling: It has been a miserable season for the sixth-year veteran — but on Sunday, he made two very big catches that helped the Chiefs advance. One went for 32 yards. Another one gained 30 — and on one of them, he even had to fight through tight coverage. This is the type of performance we expect from Valdes-Scantling: a couple of downfield plays and a 50% catch rate on targets.

Safety Chamarri Conner: When Mike Edwards left with a concussion, Kansas City needed someone to step up. Now down two safeties (including Bryan Cook, who is on the Reserve/Injured list), Conner made his presence felt with 10 tackles — including one that forced a punt — and a forced fumble. It was a really solid performance in the biggest opportunity of Connor’s young career.

Kicker Harrison Butker: Do the Chiefs have the best cold-weather kicker in NFL history? Harrison Butker has built on a nearly perfect season with some clutch kicks that have been made during terrible postseason weather. Sunday night’s winds made it very difficult for both placekickers. But this game came down to Butker hitting all five of his kicks — while the Bills’ Tyler Bass missed the 44-yarder that Buffalo fans will be trying to forget for years to come.

Losers

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman: One catch, one run, two fumbles and a net gain of one yard. That’s a rough day at the office. If the Chiefs had lost this game, Hardman’s fumble through the end zone would have been one of the most infamous plays in Kansas City history. Given how well Pacheco was running the ball, we can still hate the play-call. Since Hardman shouldn’t have tried reaching for the goal line, we can still hate the execution, too. But the bottom line is that the Bills went three-and-out on their next possession — and the Chiefs still found a way to win. Hopefully, this will just be a reminder for the team to focus on its more reliable offensive playmakers.

The Chiefs’ run defense: It didn’t cost them the game — but it’s worth noting that all night, Buffalo had success running against Kansas City’s defensive front. The Bills totaled 182 yards on 39 carries, which was led by Josh Allen’s 72 yards (and two touchdowns) on the ground. The Chiefs did get a couple of big stops on the final drive. Those led to Allen inexplicably throwing two deep passes, rather than running the clock or moving toward a game-winning score. Given the matchup they face on Sunday, let’s hope the Chiefs find more answers for running teams — and especially running quarterbacks.

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